Pop quiz: What do these racehorses have in common?
Lady Eli, Undrafted, Wavell Avenue, Paulina's Love, Exaggerator, and My Man Sam.
Yes, they're either unbeaten, graded stakes winners, Breeders' Cup champions or Kentucky Derby contenders, but there's a common thread with all of them.
His name is Sol Kumin.
Kumin is the 40-year-old CEO of a Wall Street hedge fund who got into horse racing two years ago having virtually no knowledge of the sport, aside from a couple of college jaunts to the Preakness infield. But while his house on Nantucket Island was being built by real estate developer Jay Hanley, Hanley shared his longtime passion for the game.
“We became pretty good friends through the project, and he said, ‘I think you'd love this,'” Kumin recalled. “Let's buy a couple of horses together.”
They named their partnership Sheep Pond after a road on Nantucket, and Hanley reconnected with trainer Chad Brown, who had previously trained a filly he owned. Remarkably, one of the first horses the new partners bought was Lady Eli, the $160,000 purchase who won the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf later that year and who remains undefeated from six starts. Kumin credits Hanley and Brown for guiding his early decision-making.
“Chad really took us under his wing. He's taught us a lot. He protected us,” Kumin said. “The first horses we had any success with, Lady Eli, Tammy the Torpedo, Slumber, those were all horses that he bought for us or was involved with the purchasing.”
While Kumin was just along for the ride at that stage, he has since immersed himself in the sport, branched out to create other partnerships, and formulated his own strategy for success.
“I just started getting hooked and started reading and learning, watching races, reading the forms, staring at Ragozin and Thoro-Graph numbers. I just really got into it.”
Kumin is now involved with half a dozen partnerships, and while he still buys horses at auction, a majority of his money goes into purchasing horses that have already raced, including Breeders' Cup winner Wavell Avenue, Royal Ascot victor Undrafted, and Paulina's Love, who won a Grade 2 in her first start with Kumin as a partner.
“When you start, everybody tells you to go to a sale and just buy some horses,” he said. “But there's a very high probability that you don't end up with a great horse in that first batch or second batch, and people get deflated and fizzle out. We like buying horses where we feel we can add some value because we've seen them run; we can see their speed figures.”
Kumin likens his approach to what he does in his day job at Folger Hill Asset Management. He'll take some risk, but he wants a diverse portfolio. He values information and talented people he can trust.
“We're good at what we know and what we don't know. I'm not gonna go to a sale and look at a horse and say this thing looks beautiful, I love the pedigree, I'm gonna buy it,” he said. “I have no advantage with that in my opinion. There are guys that have been doing this a lot longer than me that are a lot smarter than me.”
Kumin hired Bradley Weisbord to manage his racing affairs. He's purchased horses on the advice of well-known bloodstock agents such as Steve Young, Gatewood Bell, Nick Sallusto, David Ingordo and Pete Bradley.
“So what we try to do is find guys who are trustworthy, who are good at what they do and try to put them in positions where they're doing what they're good at. Then, we're sitting on top trying to evaluate different deals, trying to find the best places to put the dollars.”
Kumin said he wouldn't pay $600,000 for a yearling or unraced 2-year-old, but he might spend $200,000 on a sale horse or even more on a proven commodity. A large percentage of Kumin's holdings are in turf horses, fillies specifically — due in part to Brown being his primary trainer but also because he believes turf horses tend to stay sound longer and buying young colts can be a “boom or bust” proposition.
Of course, the young owner isn't immune to first Saturday in May fever. This year, Kumin bought into Exaggerator and last year, he worked out a deal to purchase My Man Sam off the farm. Wouldn't you know it? They both qualified for the Kentucky Derby.
“The funny thing is we bought My Man Sam thinking he was a turf horse,” Kumin said. “Chad got the horse in, and he didn't like him for a while. He also said ‘you guys are out of your mind, he's a dirt horse.'
“So we have a Derby horse that we bought as a turf horse that our trainer didn't like for a while. It makes it funny. We're so excited.”
Kumin, who lives in Boston and commutes half the time to New York, said his family is “psyched” about his new hobby (My Man Sam is named after the youngest of his three kids and Lady Eli is named after his wife, Elizabeth). Kumin has also brought friends into the sport, as owners and fans, and last year, he donated a percentage of his Breeders' Cup earnings to the Thoroughbred retirement group New Vocations.
“I try to enjoy all of it. I'm feeling really fortunate that at 40 years old I've found something new in my life that I knew nothing about that I'm having a lot of fun with and I'm passionate about.”
For his early success, OwnerView named Kumin the 2015 New Owner of the Year, but Kumin is also cognizant that he's been lucky to start off so well and to have connections that helped him avoid some of the traditional pitfalls for neophyte owners. He's gone through cold spells in the financial industry and knows fortunes turn on a dime in this sport, too. Still, he plans to maintain his respectful approach to the business no matter what.
“We're good guys, we don't yell at anyone. We're happy, we show up at the race with a smile on our face, we pay everybody right away, and we don't blame when we lose. We just try to do it the right way.”
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